As a mother, my year is divided into when Musa, my son, will be home, with his college closed for holidays, and when he leaves for the US again. Since last August, when he joined NYU, the school he truly worked hard to get in and which he loved from the day he joined it, I talk to him almost every day, staying in touch via constant texting.
Thank God for cheap technology, or mothers like me would turn into melancholic beings who waited for the postman on long, dusty afternoons for letters that arrived days too late. Summer holidays that last more than three months are about to commence; I mentally calendared the day he’d arrive months ago.
A few weeks ago Musa told me that he wished to spend a month in Lahore and two months in New York, where he’d take extra courses over the summer, and once his father agreed to pay for the tuition, he’d take up a job to pay for his food and stuff in those two months. No plans to party or travel, my 18-year-old son has decided to spend his first summer in the US studying, and although I’d want him at home with me for that time, I couldn’t be prouder and happier as a mother to see him be so academically inclined at an age where most young men during holidays don’t wish to see beyond babes, beaches and booze.
During his winter holidays, a month before his 18th birthday, one day after our stop for an oil change, Musa gave me a piece of his mind for yelling at the staff of the oil-change place. While he agreed with me that my reason was justified, his reasoning was simple: you can say the same thing without raising your voice, and you cannot, ever, raise your voice with someone who’s not your “equal”; meaning if he can’t yell back at you, you must keep your voice and tone respectful even when angry. Feeling ashamed and small, I accepted I was wrong, promising to apologise the next time I visited the place. And although it was months later, I did.
Two years ago, I received a call from Musa’s principal’s number and when I answered, it was Musa. He told me that he was being suspended for a day. Shocked – he was a frequent honor roll student whom most of his teachers loved – I asked him what happened. His principal told me that some teacher overheard him and another student “planning” to cheat in a chemistry test.
That day Musa was flying to Dubai as the head of his MUN team, and a day-suspension meant no Dubai. Crestfallen, as I prepared to drive to his school, his principal called me back in less than 10 minutes, and her tone told me what she had decided: after a small discussion with some of Musa’s teachers, she had decided to waive off the suspension for an on-school suspension on his return from Dubai.
The decision was easy as all his teachers vouched for his impeccable record of honesty and truthfulness. What the principal said to me, I’d never forget: “We catch children, doing stuff, red-handed, and they still deny it. Musa was only talking about doing something, an act that was utterly undeniable, but he still admitted it. That takes moral courage.”
As a bunch of loud Punjabis, screaming is a way of life for us in our household, and our children were as used to our diurnal screaming as they were to sounds of Cartoon Network and Spiderman movies. Slowly and steadily, I learnt to control my temper and not yell at anyone – justified to me of course – and that only happened because I began to question my choice to yell or not because of Musa’s intervention.
To him, raising voice with a domestic worker was a big NO: when you pay someone to work for you, they are in a weaker position, and ergo, the unfairness of it all. Today, I’m a calm, retrained person because Musa, despite being hot-tempered, taught me with his own interaction with people that to get someone to work well, your voice doesn’t have to be raised. Anyone who has ever worked for me loves Musa like a family member, and their constant prayers for him touch me deeply, making me feel humble.
There have been a number of occasions when one or the other member of our domestic staff would send Musa to me if they needed a raise, a holiday, or something extra for a special occasion. He never said no to anyone in need, making sure I noticed everyone who needed help, within or outside the house.
Musa’s love and respect for his long-distance father who’s always been a text, a call away reiterates my faith in the simple idea: real love doesn’t need “normal” expressions and a stereotypical yardstick of an emotional bond.
As an only child, Musa’s love for his cousins, Areeba, 23, and Zain, 14, is constant, absolute and that of a sibling for another one.
And then comes his third sibling, Baku. Musa’s love for Baku, the five-year-old son of my sister’s maid, and the child we love like our own, has taught me the meaning of unconditional love. The way the two of them talk to and play with one another, and Musa’s protectiveness for the tiny Baku, is hard to explain. I’ve never seen Baku react to long absences of his parents, but I saw him go uncharacteristically silent in the car for an hour, crying wordlessly for a long time when Musa left for NYC in January.
When in 2016, on the insistence of my nephew, Zain, and Musa, I decided to adopt a pellet-wounded stray Zain had rescued from a roadside, I was reminded of how Musa when nine or ten used to feed a stray puppy that resided at the site of the under-construction house in front of ours. His love for our beloved dog, Pearl, is adorable. His own dream was to build an animal shelter when he was older. I hope he will, some day.
On the last day of high school last year, Musa told me after he met all the guards at the school gates and the custodial stuff: “Mama, these guys just said to me that I’m the only student in the school who said goodbye to them, and I was the only one who greeted them every day throughout my school years.”
This was the child who was famous for losing things in school, from expensive texts books to jackets he loved, lunch boxes and water bottles when he was younger, and even at times forgot to eat his lunch. That acknowledgment meant more to me than his all-A final semester report.
Last year after joining NYU, Musa in his writing and creative writing courses, started to write stories I didn’t even know he had in him.
A typical teenager who loves action movies, reads Game of Thrones, watches WWE, finished school essays groaning, who thought proofreading was tedious and serious talks melodramatic, is suddenly writing poignantly profound stories about women, sexual abuse, heartbreak, bad marital and romantic choices, about dreams that went awry, about lives that were a train wreck. Reading his stories make me go silent, tears welling up in my eyes, wondering from where he got this sensitivity, this depth of feeling. His stories made me proud as a mother, a person, a woman, and most importantly, a writer.
A few weeks ago, Musa confided me in about his dilemma concerning a certain issue. We discussed it, he talked about it with a counselor at school, and came to his own conclusion about how he’d deal with it. Accepting the inevitability of certain things to unfold in a manner that is beyond him, and learning to cope with life as it is, Musa is wiser and happier today.
What Musa has done for me as a son is hard to word. What I know he’s done for me is invaluable: he’s taught me to be non-judgmental, and how to be a better, a wiser and a kinder person. What Musa has added to my life is how to be the best of me. Because of him I don’t scare easily. Because of him I don’t crack easily. Because of him I don’t cry easily. Because of him I laugh with all of me. And because of him I dream of tomorrow.
On this Mothers’ Day: Thank you, Musa, for being the son I love more than life, for being the son I pray all mothers to have, and for being the son who taught me the best of motherhood. Thank you for making me happy and proud to be your mother. Thank you for being my heart, Musa, and my conscience.
I love you, gaagi. Beyond always.
Thank you, God, for being so kind.